A concept I’ve always entertained, as have many others I’m sure, is that a good project manager has a better chance of transferring across market and workplace boundaries than many other more specialised disciplines.
To become proficient in ‘something’, one needs focus and immersion in that ‘something’ and that normally takes some kind of education [either formal or otherwise] and a good number of years work experience in the field. So for example, if you are an electrical engineer by training and you have specialised in your career by working at designing and building LV electrical reticulation systems for the mining industry then by the time you become technically proficient and respected in your field you’ll probably find that many years have passed. Human nature being what it is, it’s then very difficult to transition industries because chances are you will need to take a cut in pay and position to learn the ropes in your new industry.
So can it be done? I believe the answer is a definite ‘Yes’ ! After all, we can have anything we want in life, we just cannot have everything we want. So it really depends on how badly one wants and what sacrifices one is willing to make. After that, the real question is ‘How do you demonstrate to the next company that you represent a low risk to their business if they decide to take a chance on you?’
I’ve always agreed with the mainstream project management community. A PM needs 3 areas of expertise: Technical Subject Matter expertise, formal and experiential Project Management Knowledge and General Management / Business knowledge.
The real challenge is Technical Knowledge. A registered nurse who is also a PMP is just not ever going to convince an engineering construction company to take her over as their new project manager. The risk to the business is just too great. Even if she can demonstrate enough personal knowledge on the technical subject matter, the best she may have a chance of is taking a much more junior project management/administrative role in order to learn the new technical environment and ‘prove’ herself, but that normally means a substantial backwards career move in terms of salary, influence etc, at least in the medium term.
So if we really wish to move industries and the ideal is to either transition sideways or at least minimise the step backwards so that we may maintain the lifestyle to which we have grown accustomed to.
The answer lies partly in understanding the process or life-cycle of the product or service. If I understand, for example, how a piece of software is envisaged, scoped, developed, tested and deployed, then I have a better chance of managing this than if I just knew the technical aspects of software code development on their own.
So in summary:
- You can’t get away from the technical aspect. You need a basic understanding of the technical jargon and a firm grip on the fundamentals.
- You need to understand how the project management environment fits in at a business level in your chosen industry. How does project management add value to that specific business?
- Product life-cycle knowledge can, to a certain extent, make up for the lack of detailed technical experience.
- And make sure you have a formal Project Management certification or education as well. It shows the world you are serious about being a project manager.